Fall Movies Preview: 12 Oscar Contenders to Watch For

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Film-festival season is here, which means prestige flicks aren't far behind

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The Weinstein Company / Exclusive Media Group / Columbia Pictures

Call it awards-season equinox. Every year as August comes to an end, leaving theaters lacking in smart fare even more than usual, a flurry of high-profile international film festivals offers a tantalizing hint of what's to come.

These showcases happen in quick succession, and in many cases even overlap: The upcoming installment of the Venice Film Festival runs August 31 through September 10; the more condensed Telluride event takes place over Labor Day weekend; then, September 8–18, comes the marathon Toronto gala; and Lincoln Center's New York Film Festival follows a few weeks later (September 30–October 16).

For proof that festivals are of consequence to the Oscar race, look no further than last year's roster of Best Picture nominees. Four of the 10 nominees (eventual winner The King's Speech, 127 Hours, Black Swan, and The Social Network) built buzz at one or more of the aforementioned festivals, while two (The Kids Are All Right, Winter's Bone) did the same at Sundance, a winter equivalent. Looking a few additional years back, each of the last four Best Picture winners has played at Toronto.

Of course, this year's Oscar landscape has already changed dramatically since the recklessly early forecasts were filed. A game March 1 post on this site tipped such ultimate wayside-fallers as The Conspirator and Larry Crowne as potential contenders, though also included are The Tree of Life and The Help, which have both managed to maintain some level of buzz; still others pegged therein, including new films by Steven Spielberg (War Horse) and Martin Scorsese (Hugo), won't see the light of the projector until later.

Below are a dozen films poised to gather buzz at Venice, Toronto, and New York (game-changing things could certainly happen at Telluride, but the festival has made a tradition of announcing its lineup only hours before it starts). The prestige pictures listed could, for a variety of reasons—even through no particular fault of their own—go the way of The Conspirator and the Crowne, becoming nonstarters with critics, audiences, and Academy tastemakers alike. On the other hand, more seemingly anonymous entries (such as CGI-hound Roland Emmerich's unlikely Shakespeare drama, Anonymous) could very well emerge as consensus favorites. There is, naturally, no telling. But as the fall festivals have announced their lineups over the last few weeks, Oscar hopes have begun to coalesce around these films, most of them as yet only seen by distributors and programmers.

Of course, this is an abbreviated list. Among the other titles that could generate enough buzz at this fall's major festivals to enter an Oscar race or two: Andrea Arnold's Wuthering Heights, Terence Davies's The Deep Blue Sea, Paddy Considine's Tyrannosaur, Jeff Nichols's Take Shelter, and Sarah Polley's Take This Waltz.

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This post has been updated to correct the release date for Martha Marcy May Marlene, Oct. 21.

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Benjamin Mercer has written on film for The Village Voice, The New York Sun, The L Magazine, and Reverse Shot. He is a copy editor at Bookforum. More

He has also copyedited for two New York dailies: The New York Sun and amNewYork.

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